As technology has advanced, so too has the range of printing methods at our disposal. Each printing method can be suited to different needs. The range of printing options means businesses can choose which one to use to best meet their requirements.

Whilst you may be used to simply laser printing things at home or office, for marketing materials such as leaflets, booklets, stationery or flyers, a more robust method is needed.

Different printing methods

In this blog we will look at 9 different printing methods, and how and when they are used best.

  1. Digital Printing
  2. Flexography
  3. Offset Printing
  4. Rotogravure
  5. Large Format
  6. 3D Printing
  7. Screen Printing

1. Digital Printing

Digital printing is the reproduction of digital images on to physical surfaces. It’s a modern method of printing that covers a variety of different techniques including inkjet printing and laser.

As part of the digital printing method, images are sent directly to the printer using digital files (for example, a PDF).

This eliminates the need for a printing plate. Other types of printing such as lithography still need this. As Digital Printing doesn’t use a printing plate, it’s a much more time and cost efficient printing method.

Digital printing also allows for quick turnaround, meaning businesses can print on demand. It’s also great for small run jobs as there’s no setup cost or minimum quantity, so it’s perfect for smaller amounts.

Digital printing can make for a cost-effective method that still produces high quality prints.

Often used for:

  • Posters and signage
  • Labels, newsletters, menus and letters

 2. Flexography

Flexography, often abbreviated to flexo, is a method of printing most commonly used for packaging.  It can be seen as the modern version of letterpress printing.

It got this name (flexo) as the printing method was originally used for corrugated cardboard, which has a very uneven surface. The printing plate surface must maintain contact with the cardboard, which it does by being flexible.

This style of printing uses quick-drying, semi-liquid inks and can be used for high volume jobs.

Often used for:

  • Packaging and labels (e.g. plastic bags, juice cartons, disposable cups, and chocolate bar wrappers)
  • Anything with continuous patterns e.g. wallpaper and gift wrap

3. Lithographic (Offset) Printing

This is a widely used method of mass-production printing.

This method involves printing plates which are normally made from aluminium. Each plate holds an image of the content that is going to be printed. The content of these plates is then transferred, or “offset” onto rollers or blankets.

Then the inked blankets transfer the image onto paper.

The process is often called offset because the ink is first transferred from plate to blanket.  Rather than going directly on to the paper.

As the content that is to be printed never comes in to contact with the plates, this also extends the life of them.

Offset lithography can consistently produce high quality images, for both small and high-volume print jobs. However, due to the time and costs in setting up it’s not the most cost effective for small jobs. It’s best to use this method for very large volumes.

Often used for:

  • Books, stationery and more

4.  Rotogravure (Gravure)

Rotogravure printing, also known as Gravure, is primarily a long-run, high-speed, high-quality printing method.

It’s a form of intaglio printing that produces fine, detailed images. This involves engraving the image onto an image carrier. In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a copper cylinder because, like offset and flexography, it uses a rotary printing press.

Rotary gravure presses are the fastest and widest presses in operation, printing everything from narrow labels to 12-feet-wide rolls of vinyl flooring.

Often used for:

  • High-volume printing of packaging, wallpaper, and gift-wrap using fast-drying inks.
  • Although less common, can also be used for printing magazines, greeting cards, and high-volume advertising pieces.

5. Large format printing

The clue is in the name, this method exists to produce maximum print roll width.

It’s mostly suited to traditional advertising formats, and businesses who are doing large scale advertising.  For large print media such as building wraps, billboards, banners and murals, large format printing is the best option.

Large format printing is made with either roll-fed inkjet presses or flatbed presses. Flatbed presses allow for the product to be printed directly onto thicker substrates, in essence skipping a step in the process, as roll-fed presses require the print to be mounted on a more rigid base.

Often used for:

  • Large signage e.g. billboards, posters, vinyl banners
  • Wallpaper and murals
  • Floor graphics
  • Laminating

we use flat beds which is large panel printing as well as on a roll…it’s more common to use this method now as you can only print on foamex or die bond this way rather than on a roll

6. 3D Printing

Over the last few years this method has seriously took off with more and more uses being reported.

All 3D printers essentially work in the same way. They turn a digital model into a physical three-dimensional object by adding material a layer at a time.

No special tools are required, as the part is manufactured directly onto the built platform layer-by-layer.

The process always needs a digital 3D model, as this is the blueprint of the physical object.

The model is then sliced by the printer’s software into thin, 2-dimensional layers. After this it’s turned into a set of instructions in machine language (G-code) for the printer to execute.

Often used for:

  • Promotion and marketing freebies
  • Novelty items
  • Display items
  • Toy figurines
  • Who knows what we could see in the future!

7. Screen Printing

This printing method involves using fine material or mesh to transfer images onto another material. It’s been around since the early 20th century and is mostly used for printing graphics on to clothes.

The image you want to be printed is first transferred to a fine mesh, with blank areas being covered with a substrate. The mesh is stretched out, acting as a screen. Then ink is pushed through the openings in the mesh onto the end material.

Again, this is a method where a lot of set up is required, so it’s best to do this in bulk to keep it cost effective

Often used for:

  • Printing logos and graphics onto clothes
  • Fabric banners
  • Posters

Still not sure what printing method you need? Contact one of our friendly advisers, who will guide you through the printing process to deliver a product that exceeds your expectations.